Business

Your online bargain was a steal? Porch pirates think so, too

A UPS driver wheels packages to a north Tacoma home on Black Friday. As more shoppers turn to the internet to buy Christmas presents, customers are wary of thieves targeting packages after they’re delivered.
A UPS driver wheels packages to a north Tacoma home on Black Friday. As more shoppers turn to the internet to buy Christmas presents, customers are wary of thieves targeting packages after they’re delivered. dean.koepfler@thenewstribune.com

Whoever stole Jeremy Wekell’s package off his Tacoma porch didn’t get the payday they were looking for.

“I presume they were really disappointed when they opened it and found paper,” he said.

The box contained only manuals for Wekell’s business, Al’ta Counseling. They cost him $1,100 but were worthless to anyone else.

Porch pirates.

That’s the name some give to thieves who snatch just-delivered packages from porches, stoops and decks.

Many of them have become internet stars as they are captured on increasingly popular doorbell cameras. Call it five minutes of fame followed by five to ten in the Big House.

FedEx and UPS do not divulge statistics on parcel theft and police agencies generally do not isolate that specific crime. But anecdotal evidence and polling suggest it’s a consistent and growing problem.

If Black Friday is followed by Cyber Monday, then call today Thievery Tuesday.

When Tacoma garden designer Sue Goetz’s Bluetooth adapter didn’t arrive from Amazon in September, she didn’t give it much thought.

“I was just thinking it hadn’t been delivered yet,” Goetz recalled. “Until this gentleman showed up on my doorstep and showed me this torn up package.”

The man had found the remains of Goetz’s shipment in Point Defiance Park.

“He said it was with some other stuff, other mail, different addresses,” Goetz said. Amazon refunded her purchase.

With online shopping increasing in popularity and the holiday season approaching, this year could be a bumper crop for drive-by criminals.

FedEx anticipates another record peak holiday shipping season, with each of the four Mondays before Christmas expected to be among the busiest in the company’s history.

“We expect record peak volume, approximately 10 percent higher than last year for the total peak period,” a FedEx spokeswoman said.

A November 2015 study conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their homes, according to insurancequotes.com.

An unguarded package sitting in plain view on a porch can be inviting to a passing thief. But there are steps consumers can take to ensure their purchases make more than a short stay at their destinations.

Both FedEx and UPS allow customers to inform the company where they want packages delivered.

“When customers use FedEx Delivery Manager, our drivers are trained to follow the instructions on where and when they want their deliveries made, which helps protect everyone’s shipments,” the FedEx spokeswoman said.

UPS offers UPS My Choice, a service that also notes where packages should be left. It also sends a text or email to the customer the day prior to delivery.

The U.S. Postal Service offers Package Intercept. The service allows you to redirect a shipment before it’s delivered. It’s available for packages, letters and flats with a tracking or extra services bar code.

You can have it held at a post office or sent to a different domestic address, including return to sender.

While those services might help in some circumstances, packages could still be vulnerable no matter where they are left. Some thieves follow delivery drivers and note where they leave packages.

“All year long we work with our drivers to be aware of their surroundings and report any unusual activities,” the FedEx spokeswoman said.

Experts agree that delivering a package to the hands of a person is the best theft prevention.

If the purchaser is unable to accept delivery, they can have the shipment sent to where they work, to a relative or to a neighbor who is home during the day.

When Wekell’s manuals were stolen four years ago he was living in the apartment building he owns on South Pine and 11th streets.

“That’s when I told all my tenants that they could have their packages delivered to my office,” Wekell said. “That was the last time I had anything delivered to an unsecured porch.”

If you are on the receiving end of a neighbor’s package, get it into their hands as soon as possible. Many items are perishable. Medicine, for instance, can be worth thousands of dollars and some must be kept refrigerated.

UPS Access Point offers locations where packages can be picked up: The UPS Store, neighborhood delis, grocery stores and other local businesses. There are more than 8,000 UPS Access Point locations across the United States.

Amazon is, of course, a major supply point for online shopping. It’s still going to be a while before their drones drop that order of bubble bath right into your hot tub.

Until then, the online retail giant offers lockers at various locations where packages can be picked up. Amazon has 19 listed in Pierce County but only one in Thurston.

The lockers cannot hold larger parcels. That’s the situation Goetz recently found herself in when she made another order from Amazon following her theft.

“Amazon locker couldn’t take it, so I stayed home the day I knew it would arrive,” she said.

She also now requests that deliveries be left at her back door. But, she’s had only limited luck with that.

“It’s hit and miss,” Goetz said. “Some drivers do that and some don’t.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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